The head of the government’s flagship welfare reform project, Universal Credit, has admitted that it has suffered from poor project management in the past.
Universal Credit will merge benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credit, and working credit. The IT system supporting it will require real-time data on the earnings of every adult, from a new Pay as You Earn (PAYE) system being developed by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
However, to date there have been a number of suspected problems with delivery. There have been several leadership changes, which have been perceived as those in charge attempting to distance themselves from the project, timetable changes, as well as reports of job centres still having to use spreadsheets after the system has been implemented.
It was also revealed earlier this year that the Government Digital Service (GDS) has been recruited to Universal Credit to deliver an ‘enhanced IT solution’, despite the likes of Accenture, HP and IBM having worked on the system for months.
Shiplee came on board in April this year after having previously headed up the construction for the London 2012 Olympics.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph today, Shiplee claims to have been impressed with the team working on Universal Credit, but admits to some failings thus far.
“But it’s also clear to me there were examples of poor project management in the past, a lack of transparency where the focus was too much on what was going well and not enough on what wasn’t and with suppliers not managed as they should have been,” said Shiplee.
“There is no doubt there have been missteps along the way. But we’ve put that right.”
He added: “I’m not in the business of making excuses, and I think it’s always important to acknowledge in any project where things may have gone wrong in order to ensure we learn as we go forward.”
Shiplee notes that Secretary of State for the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), Iain Duncan Smith, has been keen to reset the programme to ensure it is delivered on time and within budget.
New processes and people have been put in place to achieve this, according to Shiplee, as well as a new plan for delivery being established and more independent oversight introduced.
A new director will also be hired to ensure that suppliers will deliver value for money.
Shiplee said: “I am confident we are now back on course and the challenges are being handled.”
GDS is still finalising the enhanced IT solution for Universal Credit, which means that the programme is currently focusing on “rolling out the cultural elements” of the welfare project. This includes ensuring that all Jobcentres will be using the new Claimant Commitment beginning in October, which lays out what jobseekers have to do in order to receive benefits.
“We can’t underestimate the scale of the challenge. This is a fundamental transformation of the welfare system. It involves rebuilding and merging programmes currently run out of DWP, HMRC and local authorities across the country," said Shiplee.
“It means changing the working practices of these organisations and the thousands of staff working at Jobcentre Plus. It means a complete reordering of how benefit claimants experience the welfare state.
“This is no small reform. But it’s a necessary one.”